DENVER, Dec. 26 (Ticker) -- Chauncey Billups
had a happy homecoming to add to one of the roughest days in Denver Nuggets' history.
Billups, a Denver native, scored 22 points and handed out eight assists as the Minnesota Timberwolves squandered a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter before rallying for a 94-91 victory over the Nuggets.
Denver was playing just hours after Dan Issel announced his resignation as coach and team president. Issel, who was suspended four games earlier this month for an ethnic slur directed at a fan, has been replaced by Mike Evans.
Billups made 7-of-14 shots and also grabbed six rebounds against the team for which he played from 1989-99.
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Anthony Peeler's 10 fourth-quarter points saved the Wolves from a big collapse.
William R. Sallaz
"I just want to play well for my teammates and my family," Billups said. "It's not like I want to come back and beat these guys, I want to beat everybody. I just want to be aggressive."
Minnesota took its largest lead at 88-73 on a basket by Kevin Garnett with 6:45 left. A jumper by Wally Szczerbiak
gave the Timberwolves a seemingly safe 90-81 advantage with 2:52 to go.
But Denver finally came alive and scored 10 straight points, including four consecutive free throws by James Posey,
to grab its first lead of the second half, 91-90, with 43 seconds left.
Minnesota answered with an 18-foot jumper by Joe Smith
off a feed from Garnett with 33 seconds to go. Garnett drew a double-team on the play, leaving Smith open.
"A little 15-footer," Smith said. "KG did a hell of a job of just redirecting that last play. He was patient enough to wait for me to get open. I wasn't nervous. It was a crucial situation."
After Voshon Lenard
missed a 3-pointer for the Nuggets, Anthony Peeler
made two foul shots with eight seconds remaining.
"We dodged a bullet letting a great shooter, Voshon Lenard, on that shot get wide-open at the end," Billups said. "That's his favorite spot."
"When you didn't practice yesterday, practice the day before, didn't the day before that, we knew we wouldn't be really sharp," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "We got them down, we just couldn't put them away. They made some shots and hung around."
After a timeout, Nick Van Exel
missed a 3-pointer on Denver's final possession as the Nuggets suffered their fourth straight loss under Evans.
"It was a shot we wanted," Van Exel said. "We fought hard to come back, but we just couldn't get it done at the end of the game. We just have keep going and work hard."
"Except for one game, we have been very competitive," Evans said. "We've overcome a lot of adversity and have still been able to be very competitive. Vo had a great look at the end of the game, which he hardly ever misses, but it just didn't fall tonight."
The Timberwolves used a 12-0 run in the third quarter to take a 70-57 lead with 1:49 remaining. Garnett had five points in the spurt, which was capped by a short hook by Gary Trent.
Garnett finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Minnesota, which made 8-of-17 shots from beyond the arc. Szczerbiak added 16 points as the Wolves improved to 7-2 against Midwest Division foes.
Van Exel led all scorers with 27 points and Posey netted 18 despite 6-of-19 shooting. Raef LaFrentz
collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which shot 41 percent (33-of-81).
"We started off shaky and got off in a big hole. It was a good comeback as a team and we tried to build on the momentum," Posey said. "We just have to work on not having lapses at critical times."
The Nuggets have shot under 42 percent in 12 of the last 16 games. Their three-game home losing streak matches their longest since January 12-21, 2000.
Van Exel committed six of Denver's nine turnovers.